The Charlotte Hornets brought the energy and the focus Sunday night against the Trail Blazers.
Charlotte jumped out to a 20-point lead at the end of the first quarter, while Portland’s defense looked out of sorts, to say the least, especially in transition.
After being down by as many as 29, Portland’s small-ball lineup midway through the final period cut the lead to single digits in big thanks to Carmelo Anthony.
But it wasn’t enough as the Hornets held on and defeated the Blazers, 109-101.
Yet, there was a big question mark after the game.
Why didn’t Derrick Jones Jr. play?
Without Damian Lillard for the second consecutive game due to right hamstring tendinopathy, Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts decided to insert forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson into the starting lineup instead of putting Derrick Jones Jr. back into the lineup.
The Blazers had just signed Hollis-Jefferson to a second 10-day contract earlier in the day.
But with RHJ earning 22 minutes that meant Jones Jr. did not see the floor Sunday.
Coach Stotts explained the decision postgame.
“It wasn’t a decision to not play Derrick at all." Stotts continued. “That’s kind of the way it played out, but that wasn’t necessarily the plan going into it.
“I just thought it was the best move for the team at this point.”
In his first start this season for the Blazers and just his third game, Hollis-Jefferson brought the energy Sunday, while battling on the glass.
The 26-year-old notched seven points and five rebounds.
Coach Stotts was pleased with what he saw out of the six-year veteran.
“Obviously, he was part of that group that got off to a poor start, but that wasn’t necessarily on him,” Stotts added.
Portland will now get set for a big test Tuesday night when the Trail Blazers host the L.A. Clippers.
The Blazers are hoping to get Lillard back Tuesday, and when the team is back to full strength, that’s what Stotts is looking forward to with 16 regular season games remaining.
“Since we’ve added Norman [Powell] and [Jusuf] Nurkic to the team, we’re, I think at last count, we were 16 in defense. I think that’s going in the right direction. We get Dame back, I was encouraged by our offense against Boston, to win a close game at San Antonio – there’s some positives.
“Obviously, this first quarter of tonight’s game kind of dampers it a little bit, but I think overall, we’re heading in the right direction when we have everybody.”